Gilbert Cruz
September 22, 2006 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Lord of the Rings put a big crimp in Gillian Flynn’s literary aspirations. Four years ago, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY’S TV critic (then a correspondent) was off covering Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, an assignment so plum she shelved her first novel for several months. ”I remember thinking, ‘I guess I won’t be finishing this book. Damn you, Frodo,”’ she recalls.

The delay didn’t hurt much: Flynn’s Sharp Objects hits stores this month after garnering serious advance praise (Kirkus Reviews called it ”genuinely terrifying”). In the thriller, a reporter goes back to her small Midwestern hometown to investigate a series of child murders and make peace with her frighteningly dysfunctional family. ”The writing came pretty intuitively to me,” says Flynn, 35, who credits in part the many mysteries she’s reviewed over the years. ”I never knew who the murderer was for quite a while, though.” What does her own family think of the book? ”Initially, my mother told me how great it was, but then she came around to ‘Do we need to talk about anything?”’

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